Friday, January 29, 2016

Trump's absence was welcome

Last night's Republican debate was notable in that it was not dominated by Donald Trump.  As all know, he chose not to participate.  That is a story on its own.  Trump had threatened not to participate if Megyn Kelly, who he calls "biased", served as moderator.  When Fox did not budge on Kelly(good for them), Trump said he would not participate, but everyone wondered whether there was some face saving room there that would still lead Trump triumphantly to change his mind.  Then Fox News put out a sarcastic press release suggesting that Putin and the Ayatollah might not treat Trump fairly either(bad for them).

Candidates can say what they want and they are meant to be covered by the press.  So can individual reporters when giving opinion but not news.  But when Fox put out that press release under their corporate name, they became a news participant rather than an observer or analyst. That was completely unprofessional and for certain had to seal Trump's decision to pass.  He may have done so regardless, but what an unfortunate and out of line move by Fox.

While certainly not as entertaining, the debate itself had its "enlightening" moments, at least to the extent that word can be used to describe anything about these debates.  Not being able to hide behind any excuse that Trump was ruining the dialogue, both Cruz and Rubio came across as lightweights on policy but reasonably capable as debaters to some observers.  Cruz's extreme right wing politics were more transparent, to his credit that he did not hide it I guess, and his unrestrained vitriol(was he abused as a child) showed through often and there was more time for it to be choked down as it was not directed at Trump.  Rubio's constant repetition of the same statements and several of his comments about religion, going so far as to make sure the audience knew that "Jesus Christ was his Lord and Savior" seemed like blatant pandering.  One should not question another person's religion, unless they are using it to promote themselves or abuse others.  Rubio's comment easily falls under the category of  "self promotion" when related to the campaign.

Conservative observers seemed to think Rubio did well, and some thought that Jeb Bush had his best night.  That does not take much.  John Kasich has to be taken seriously within this primary at the moment based on polls for the New Hampshire primary.  He continued to praise himself with enthusiasm and try to make the case that experience counts, a tough sell in this election period.  With Trump not there to remind voters that Ohio's economic good fortune under Kasich is at least partially due to the geographic "gift" of fracking, Kasich seemed more confident.

Among the also-rans, Ben Carson as usual seemed surprised to be asked questions and unprepared to answer them except in the most vague generalities, as he seems to believe that he is above it all. Chris Christie continued to come up with good one liners and promote himself as a Washington outsider who has run a government.  He has no chance in this race but truly wants to be liked by everyone. Rand Paul was a welcome addition back to the debate as he has a definite libertarian point of view that is not going to lead him to the nomination, but he rankles the leading candidates with substantive attacks on their some of their weaker statements.  It is hard to think that they welcome him back.

The impact of Trump's decision to pass on the debate is unknown.  He certainly succeeded in continuing to create publicity for himself, more than any other candidate by far.  Whether his Deadhead like fans will actually vote is the big question("hey, this is my eighth Trump event, what about you?"  "It's just my fifth but my whole family now has hats.  I really liked the one where they served soda and ribs.")    No doubt the polls will give us a mass of questionable information in the next few days.  We await Monday.


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